“We’re low on bird seed now,” Newmark observes anxiously. “That’s a crisis.”
The scale and scope of the crisis become evident when you understand Newmark’s ornithological obsession. During an hour-long conversation, his eye keeps wandering to the small garden where morning doves, house sparrows, cardinals, blue jays and “a hopefully limited number of pigeons” come and go. Just last night he installed a webcam so he can watch them all remotely. For good measure, there are numerous photos of birds on the walls and a papier-mache model, made by his 11-year-old nephew.
“I love birds for reasons unknown,” Newmark says. “We’re observing that the doves are not that nice to each other and we also see them fighting with the sparrows. The sparrows are much smaller, but the more aggressive sparrows can chase off a much larger dove. So I’ve named them Cersei and Daenerys.”
It may be that Newmark feels more comfortable around feathered friends than the human variety. He is a self-declared “nerd of the old school, 1950s style”, squirrel watcher and sci-fi fan who, sitting in a jacket, trousers and slippers, cheerfully admits he is “simulating” social skills. He is a computer geek who checks email obsessively and in 1995 founded Craigslist – which is, with about 50bn page views a month, one of the world’s most popular websites. Now 66, he is a survivor of the age of internet idealism, before fake news and perpetual outrage cast long shadows.